Hundreds of years ago wild prairie grass covered the state, and contributed to Iowa’s productive soils. Now there’s less than one percent of land in the state that has it. But a group of ISU researchers are trying to use natural grasses to help with conservation with Science-based Trials of Rowcrops Integrated with Prairie Strips (STRIPS) program. At Iowa State test plots, they’re working on ways for the grasses to live alongside corn and beans.
ISU Professor of Agronomy Matt Liebman says, “Well I think everyone in Iowa’s agricultural community is concerned about conserving soil and water and one of the huge benefits of this kind of prairie vegetation is it basically prevents any soil movement off site and it encourages the infiltration of water slowly into the soil.”
By converting 10% of farm ground into prairie perennials farmers and landowners can reduce almost 90% of soil leaving fields and 85% of nitrogen. Where grassy water ways act as a road to direct water movement the tough stalks of prairie grass act as a wall to stop it.
Liebman says, “Encouraging more water to move into the ground rather than sheeting off as runoff and from the standpoint of soil and nutrients in place if we can weave this kind of vegetation into cropland, it offers tremendous opportunities for soil and water conservation. As well as places to conserve birds and other forms of wildlife.”